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Ray Johnson went from working the counter at a Michigan discount store to scrubbing toilets, demoted after a coworker revealed to his boss that he was gay. He was 19 at the time, but almost 30 years later he still gets upset about the homophobic incident.
"I know the pain that that can cause, but it does get better," the Oak Park village trustee said, getting choked up at Monday's board meeting.
Johnson and Trustee Colette Lueck, who is also gay, want Oak Park's TV station to put together a promotional video that tells gay teens that things eventually get better. And they want village hall to partner with the local high school's Gay-Straight Alliance to create the video, to eventually be posted on the "It Gets Better Project." The website was started last month after several gay teenagers committed suicide because they were bullied for being gay.
Hundreds of videos have been posted on the site, by celebrities and regular Joes alike, gay or straight. Johnson and Lueck hope Oak Park will add its own video, comforting young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who have been bullied early on in life.
Johnson hasn't heard of any specific issues locally, but doesn't want to wait for someone to take their life in Oak Park.
"We know we don't have an issue here, but we don't want to wait," he said.
The village board gave its approval to the idea on Monday, and after the blessing, Lueck said she planned to reach out to Oak Park and River Forest High School Tuesday to gauge its interest. Both trustees said they'd love to take part in the video, since they believe it's important to have a mature presence.
"You want adults in the video because it's about a better tomorrow," Lueck said. "When you feel the world has ended, you don't always see that it's going to come back another day."